Saturday, April 5, 2008

Les Savy Fav @ The Black Cat April 4, 2008

Les Savy Fav, along with now-defunct fellow travelers like At The Drive-In and The Dismemberment Plan, come from of a late set post-hardcore groups that fully embraced lush production values, as well as the elements of disparate genres like dance music and progressive rock which had been lurking under post-hardcore's surface since the late 1980s. These bands were also present when post-hardcore crashed into the mainstream at the turn of the 21st century, shattering the style, as well as many of the bands, into myriad pieces. Chances are, if you like anything remotely art punk today, it owes something to bands like Les Savy Fav and their ilk.

Unlike At The Drive-In and the Dismemberment Plan, though, Les Savy Fav are still going strong. Even after an extended hiatus for a large chunk of the current decade, they remain relevant with their 2007 studio record Let's Stay Friends receiving much acclaim and a live album, After The Balls Drop, coming later this month. Keep a look out for this latter album, as it is their live show which the band really puts their heart and soul into.

I arrived at the Black Cat, one of my favorite DC venues, just in time to catch one of the last songs by opening act the Dodos. In terms of stage presence, the Dodos weren't terribly much to speak of. They were in between songs and I was expecting delicate post-rock, and indeed they did play post-rock, albeit with a rhythmic power often lacking in said style of music. Next up was the Big Sleep, a band out of Brooklyn who played spacey, proto-metal tinged art rock, although I couldn't bet feel that there was some of the trilled fury of Unwound and the rhythmic precision of Shellac in their sound as well.

In all honesty I was a little worried for Les Savy Fav before they went on. They have been playing for more than a decade now, and the sound of their records has been increasingly rounded out by high production values and electronic/dance influences. Having only a few MP3s by the band from their early years (from their page on Epitonic), and being only vaguely familiar with more recent cuts, I wondered if they would have the same visceral kick that they would have had, say, in the late 1990s. The Big Sleep's set wasn't spectacular, but it was competent and enjoyable, and as a neophyte to Les Savy Fav I did honestly wonder if Les Savy Fav would be upstage by a band ten years younger than them, absurd as that seems to me now and to those seasoned fans of Les Savy Fav.

Luckily, Les Savy Fav, are a hard-rocking, high-octane punk band know how to put on a show. Anticipation was already high among the crowd when lead singer Tim Harrington, who resembles a cross between Karl Marx and Homer Simpson in bohemian clothing, took the stage to peer out to the audience, and as his band mates took the stage he introduced this narrative to tie together the proceedings, something of a bizarre lampooing of the Die Hard movies and 24. The word on Tim Harrington is showmanship: he stuck to that story the entire show, regularly working in costume changes and props, like some sort of post-punk Alice Cooper. Unlike arena rockers who do this to create a space between themselves and the audience, Harrington is all about engaging his audience, regularly venturing out into the audience to dance with them or otherwise engage them in the proceedings. It's not just Harrington who's larger than life, it's everybody.

Harrington's opening speech concerning the action movie plot concluded with a countdown after which the band kicked in and I found myself, for the first time since about age 14, caught up in a mosh pit. It was a little jarring at first, but I quickly came to enjoy it, pogoing to keep up as best I could and singing along if I could pick up the refrains to songs I'd never heard. I eventually stayed right up front in the center of the cyclone where the band met the audience for the duration, the moshing only becoming to intense for me during the charged encore. It was also the first time in a while seeing an established band with a large audience, and though I've grown to love smaller, more intimate shows, I'd forgotten how exciting big things can be. Les Savy Fav aren't my favorite band, but I felt like it and wished they were during the show, and who's saying they won't be pretty soon? Seeing Les Savy Fav live is an intense, energetic and life-affirming experience, don't miss them next time they come around.

Thanks to Mann's World for the picture up top.

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